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Osteoporosis   (back to contents)

What is it? 
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones that can lead to 
breaks which are difficult to heal - hence its alternative name,
 brittle bone disease. 

Osteoporosis facts and figures 
Bones are made up of a thick outer shell with a honeycomb 
mesh inside. Osteoporosis occurs when the gaps in this honeycomb
become bigger making the bone fragile and brittle causing them to 
break easily. The wrists, hips and spine are particularly at risk. 

What causes it? 
During childhood and the teenage years the skeleton grows and 
develops, with the bones getting longer and the internal mesh 
becoming more dense until they achieve their greatest density 
when a person is in their late 20s. A natural part of the ageing 
process is that bones get weaker in people over 30 and the 
honeycomb becomes less dense. However, in some cases this 
occurs faster than in others leading to osteoporosis. A poor diet 
in youth can also lay the foundations for the disease in later life. 

Who gets it? 
Women are particularly at risk because they have smaller more 
fragile bones to start off with. This is complicated by the menopause 
during which the body stops producing oestrogen - a hormone 
essential for good bone health. And because of the natural ageing 
process, the risk increases with age. However, more and more
research is indicating that the disease can affect younger people,
with the National Osteoporosis Society reporting an increase in
 incidence of the disease among young women, particularly those
 who are underweight or who have suffered anorexia. 

How can it be prevented? 
Diet and exercise are the two key preventive measures. 
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy says skipping, jogging
and aerobics are the best exercises to beat the disease. 
A high calcium, well-balanced diet throughout life but especially
while the body is still developing is recommended. 

Dr Nicola Keay, an osteoporosis researcher who has studied the
effect of the disease on young women, said there were dangers in 
failing to find a balance. "If you're doing too much exercise or don't
 eat enough, or if you don't do any exercise and eat lots of fast food,
 those extremes obviously aren't good," she said. 
"The message is to get a balance - do enough exercise, eat a
 reasonable diet and don't go on a crash diet at 10 or 12 worrying 
about being too fat because it's the worst thing you can do for your 

What is the treatment? 
Gentle exercise can help those who are already suffering the disease
 but have not yet suffered any fractures to rebuild bone strength. 
Drug treatments can help restore levels of oestrogen in those who 
have stopped producing it, or target it to where it is needed in people
who have low levels of the hormone. These therapies include including 
hormone replacement therapy, oestrogen derivatives and a new 
generation of drugs known as selective oestrogen receptor modulators. 

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